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What Philip Hammond’s resignation means for Boris Johnson

Supporters of the Tory leadership favourite fear the departure of the Chancellor and David Gauke will cause serious problems in Westminster and Brussels.

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Theresa May won’t be alone in leaving government next Wednesday: David Gauke and Philip Hammond, two of the most outspoken opponents of a no-deal Brexit in the outgoing Cabinet, have said they will quit on the afternoon before Boris Johnson takes office. 

Both the Justice Secretary and Chancellor told interviewers this morning that they would sooner quit than endorse Johnson’s Brexit policy. Gauke tells the Sunday Times: “If the test of loyalty to stay in the cabinet is a commitment to support no-deal on 31 October which, to be fair to him, Boris has consistently said – then that’s not something I’m prepared to sign up to.

“I recognise that this spell in government is coming to an end. Given that I’ve been in the cabinet since Theresa May came to power, I think the appropriate thing is for me to resign to her.”

Hammond, meanwhile, told this morning’s Andrew Marr Show: “Assuming Boris Johnson becomes the next prime minister, I understand his conditions will include accepting a no-deal exit on 31 October. That’s not something I could ever sign up to, so I intend to tender my resignation to Theresa May.”

Neither admission is surprising. Both ministers have made their opposition to a no-deal outcome repeatedly clear – not just on the airwaves, but in the division lobbies too. Having defied the whip to oppose no-deal – in Gauke’s case repeatedly – it was fairly obvious, as Gauke and Hammond acknowledge, that they were heading for the exit in any case.

In pre-announcing their departure, they have made a deliberate gesture of defiance towards Johnson, who will be denied the pleasure of sacking them and up to a dozen more ministers who will quit on Wednesday. That, along with the unprecedented scale of this week’s Tory rebellion over no-deal, is a sign that the next prime minister will face a much more organised and indeed militant resistance from Conservative Remainers than Theresa May ever did. 

Yet the remarks will cause anxiety in the frontrunner’s camp for another reason. Johnson supporters whose preference is for a new deal, or a tweaked withdrawal agreement, are less concerned with what these remarks tell us about the numbers in Westminster than the signal they send to Brussels. Also on Marr this morning was Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, who warned that no-deal would not happen unless MPs actively voted for it.

That line will worry those who believe that leaving without an agreement should be a negotiating gambit rather than an objective in itself. They fear that the louder those determined to stop no-deal shout – be it in Parliament or in interviews with the European press  the less likely any compromise with Dublin or Brussels will become.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. 

Why more millennials should go to the Proms

The first night is a reminder that there is still a huge diversity problem in classical music for both performers and audience.

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By the end of the first night of the Proms, the atmosphere is jubilant. The evening has ended with Janáček’s rousing Glagolitic Mass, a monumental early 20th century work featuring symphony orchestra, full chorus and organ. It feels a fitting segue for the rest of the festival, the largest and most famous of its kind in the UK – perhaps the world – which will now run at the Royal Albert Hall in London every day until 13 September.

There is also a sense amongst the audience of knowingness. The Proms is an event for which one can “get the bug”. In the bar, I overhear the waitress ask an elderly couple, “Is this your first time at the Proms?” Slightly confused by the question, the woman replies, “Well, yes – I mean, this year.”

That it is undoubtedly so full of regulars – people who anticipate “Proms season” – enhances the feeling of community and celebration. However, this community is somewhat closed off: classical music events are not frequented by the full spectrum of society. Despite the £5 “promming” tickets (for which you queue earlier in the day and are allocated a standing spot in the pit), there is still an accessibility problem. Looking around at the 5,000-or-so people in the Royal Albert Hall, most faces are white, and most hair is grey.

Perhaps this is simply a sign that the classical music world is slowly dwindling. Maybe there just isn’t the demand for classical music anymore because it is too complex and difficult. Maybe it’s ok that young people’s musical needs are sated by pop in its myriad forms.

You could very well argue this in theory. But, as a millennial who also enjoys listening to Cardi B and Arctic Monkeys, I would advise that you don’t. Hearing the Janáček mass in the Albert Hall on Friday – the colossal space filled by the inimitable power of the organ and the fluid organism that was the orchestra – was moving in a different way from other music. That’s not to say it’s better or more worthy of critical attention – it’s just different, in a way I would advocate that everyone should have the opportunity to experience.

The Proms has historically been a festival committed to showcasing a range of work, including the new and avant garde: it is very much unstuffy in a musical sense. This year, performances will include a new work by Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, an evening dedicated to Nina Simone and a Prom showcasing “the breaks”, the genre of hip hop that has inspired breakdancing.

On this vein, the first night of the Proms traditionally opens with a premiere of a new work. This year it was a piece celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, composed by the young Canadian Zosha Di Castri. It was suitably celestial and dramatic, with plenty of violent pizzicato, an ethereal soprano melody and rustling sound effects created by the orchestra rubbing the palms of their hands together. 

The Proms does not contrive to modernise itself by including new works: rather, it has always been an aim of the festival to do so. Though this is a positive attribute, allowing young composers opportunities and keeping the festival fresh, it exists with a trace of irony. These works are not the works that are going to pull in new audiences, because while they are progressive, they are often more impenetrable. Those unfamiliar with classical music are more likely to be attracted by Holst’s Planets Suite, or the traditional last-night programme of “Rule Britannia” and “Land of Hope and Glory”.

There is a catch-22 for the Proms programmers, then. But they generally do a commendable job of balancing the scales, mixing Classic FM favourites with contemporary work and pieces of other genres entirely. 

There is also the issue of gender to contend with. In 2018, the Proms committed to a 50 per cent commissioning rate for women by 2022. This year, just under 20 per cent of the total composers are women (30 in total, next to 128 men). Last night Karina Canellakis became the first woman to conduct the first night of the Proms in its 125-year history (Marin Alsop was the first to conduct the famed Last Night in 2013).

This might seem pitiful, but in classical music – which even in its contemporary forms has been dubbed “pale, male and stale” in a recent Guardian article – it’s progress. It was a poignant moment when Di Castri emerged from the audience and hugged Canellakis onstage after the premiere of her piece on Friday evening: it is so rare to witness a classical performance in which all the creative decisions have been made by women. It should serve as motivation for programmers to keep striving for gender equality.

No matter how many new or female-led works are played, the world of classical music is always burdened by the weight of tradition. In a heartfelt expression of appreciation, some of the audience felt compelled to clap following particularly stunning movements of the Janáček. But the crowd as a whole was unsure whether this was acceptable, and it most often turned into an awkward smattering. 

The question of clapping between movements has long been contentious and is still disputed. This is confusing for regulars (though the diehards would probably vow always to wait for the end of the piece); positively intimidating for newbies. The stewards at the Hall are still dressed in waistcoats and ties. The men in the orchestra are in tails. The Proms is ostensibly a casual event and I am familiar with classical music environments; I still felt self-conscious in jeans.

The Proms sets out to be a celebration of the power of music in increasingly diverse forms. The first night in 2019 exhibited, in the programme of Dvořák and Janáček, that grand late Romantic and 20th century works are bound to thrill. It also gave a platform to two talented women under 40, which is obviously positive, though it’s sad that it’s noteworthy. There is still a huge diversity problem in classical music for both performers and audience. It is a world propped up by stuffy tradition that is inadvertently off-putting to new audiences, and the Proms is no exception.

However, the breadth of the music performed at this festival provides a rare opportunity to dip into classical without too much effort (or money). I would encourage anyone to go and have their head blown off by the organ or heart stopped by the orchestra. And for what it’s worth, if you feel the urge, I think you should go ahead and clap between movements. Ultimately, the Proms is there to engage – not silence.

The Moon landing reminds us of the importance of good news

America really needed the 1969 moon landing to go well to serve as an antidote to a decade of bad news. Does that sound familiar?

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If you feel you could do with some good news to break the seemingly never-ending roll call of troubling affairs, imagine what it was like for Americans at the end of the 1960s. The country seethed amid assassinations of civil rights leaders and politicians, protests against the Vietnam War and race riots breaking out in cities across a country which appeared, in the words of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam, “on the verge of a national nervous breakdown.”

Furthermore, all this was set against the backdrop of the Cold War and threat of nuclear Armageddon, while enough people could remember World War II, which had killed an estimated 50 to 80 million people worldwide – including a half-million Americans – and illustrated at Hiroshima and Nagasaki what the nuclear bomb could do.

Something to play on your mind lying in bed in the early hours looking at the dark ceiling. To make matters worse, the Russians kept beating America in the space race. Between 1957 and 1963, Russia sent into space the the first man-made object, the Sputnik satellite, followed by the first man and the first woman. In 1966, the Russians even landed the first man-made object on the moon, the Luna 9 probe, which transmitted the first close-up photos of the lunar surface.

That’s why the successful Apollo 11 lunar landing on 20 July 1969 and Neil Armstrong’s iconic words beamed across space offered Americans an enormous psychological reprieve and boost to their beleaguered confidence.

“Americans had seen how there was a challenge out there to our personal leadership in the world,” John Craft, a professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University, says about American lagging behind the Russians in the space race. “So to put a man on the moon felt like we were back in business.”

The emotional effect was only heightened by how this uplifting, invigorating demonstration of American prowess could turn to tragedy in a nano-second – and the 94 per cent of TV-owning Americans who tuned in to watch knew it. So when the crew splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, this tale of Herculean endeavour was assured a happy ending. For once the news couldn’t get much better.

“People had been following the whole space program and all the previous rocket launches, so this was the climax of a story that had been building for a long time, with everyone invested in it together,” says Arthur Markman, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin. “But nowadays with streaming services we can’t even watch a TV show at the same time.”

It’s hard to think of an equivalent event for revitalising society that has occurred or could yet occur. For Brits it might be the country finally winning the football World Cup and ending a seeming national jinx since 1966. For many Americans it may lie in the result of next year’s election.

Either way, for the time being it’s a common lament that the media seems to concentrate on the bad things in life, with the result that many of us end up fretting about the world’s trajectory – even though it’s claimed we needn’t be.

In his book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” cognitive scientist Steven Pinker analysed recent studies to show that despite majorities in fourteen countries – including the UK and US – believing that the world is getting worse rather than better, the reality is that life has been getting better in almost every way. 

“If you don’t hear good news, it can lead to a degree of cynicism about public elements such as government and corporations, and if all we hear is a stream of bad news about them, it is easy to disengage,” Markman says. “Good news is valuable to remind us about why institutions exist. The moon landing reinforced this idea that we live in a world of technological marvels.”

In the media’s defence, studies have indicated that given the choice, we as news consumers exhibit a “negativity bias” and seek out bad news above the good options.

“Through evolution we have brains and bodies primed to react more to negative news,” says Stuart Soroka, a professor of communication studies and political science at the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

He notes, however, how psychology studies have indicated that “outlying-ness” may matter more than negativity. Because the majority of our days tend to go well, all considered, we tend to be drawn to that which is different: bad news, as the outlier. At the same time, once the news is so bogged down in negativity, then good can become the outlier.

“We still don’t fully understand how the entire system works,” he says. “In a complex information environment, we are all making decisions about the information we access and the time we devote to it, and this affects what we know and how we feel. If the New York Times gets you down, you can go on Twitter and balance it out by seeking other kinds of information, or you can go find that kitten picture on Facebook as an antidote to bad news.”

Which begs the question, given the apparent dejection in many quarters, of whether society needs a macro-level cute kitten picture, akin to the moon landing, with which to fill the media amphitheatre and spur us on to better things.

“Having a common project binds people together – we know in workspaces that if people are involved in something bigger than themselves then they are more engaged,” Markman says. “Society could benefit from working toward something big and that makes things better. That helps erase the lines that divide us.”

James Jeffrey is a freelance journalist who splits his time between the US, the UK and roving further afield, writing for various international media.Twitter: @jrfjeffrey. 

Jeremy Hunt appeals for calm as Iran seizes two British oil tankers

The next prime minister could face a test of their foreign policy judgement - and a clash with Donald Trump - much earlier than expected.

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Iranian forces have seized two British oil tankers in the Gulf amid rising tensions over between the regime, UK and US.

Two ships - the British-registered Stena Impero and the Liberian-registered but British owned Mesdar - were suddenly diverted from their courses in international shipping lanes by Iran's Revolutionary Guard this evening.

The owners of the Stena Impero, which is said to be heading towards Iran, have been unable to make contact with its 23-strong crew. Reports from Iran, meanwhile, suggest that the Mesdar may already be back on course.

Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, said a statement that he was "extremely concerned" by the seizures, which mark a sharp escalation in hostilities between Iran and the UK. 

The threat to British shipping in Iranian waters - a major thoroughfare for the transportation of oil from other gulf states - was raised to "critical", the highest possible level, by the government last week.

It came after Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker - suspected of transporting oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions - near Gibraltar earlier this month. Iranian forces responded in kind with the attempted seizure of a British tanker on 10 July.

In an interview with Sky News this evening, Hunt appealed for calm but warned of "consequences" in the event that Iran did not relinquish control of the ships. He stressed, however, that military action was not being considered.

Earlier, the Foreign Secretary had said in a statement: "I'm extremely concerned by the seizure of two vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz.

 "I will shortly attend a COBR meeting to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels - a British-flagged vessel and a Liberian-flagged vessel. 

"Their crews comprise a range of nationalities, but we understand there are no British citizens on board either ship. 

"Our Ambassador in Tehran is in contact with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the situation and we are working closely with international partners. 

"These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region."

Tom Watson, Labour's deputy leader, said that the news was "a matter of real concern" and echoed Hunt's call for Iran to allow the vessels safe passage. Meanwhile Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat leadership candidate and foreign affairs spokesperson, called for "cool heads" and urged the government to prevent Donald Trump from using the incident as a pretence for military action.

The continuing stand-off - and any further escalation of tensions both over Gulf shipping and the Iranian nuclear deal - will provide a key early test for the next Conservative leader, who will take office as prime minister next Wednesday. 

Not only will it provide a sharp and immediate test of their judgement on foreign policy, but it also offers potential for an early clash with the US president - something both Hunt and Boris Johnson have been at pains to avoid throughout the campaign.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent. 

Both Ed Davey and Jo Swinson could support a Labour prime minister

And other lessons from tonight's Lib Dem leadership debate.

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Both think they know how to win back Leave voters

The first question put to both contenders was one that keeps some of their parliamentary colleagues awake at night: just how does the party of Bollocks to Brexit win support from the 52 per cent? 

Neither Swinson nor Davey showed any appetite to deviate from the full-throttle Remain platform that has paid such rich electoral dividends of late, but both acknowledged the party needed to develop an offer to Leave voters. 

But how? Interestingly, both couched their answer in terms of tackling climate change. Expect the winner to push for a British Green New Deal – a jobs-intensive policy that Lib Dem MPs believe would detoxify their Brexit message in post-industrial communities.


The next Lib Dem manifesto will be as green as it is yellow

Whoever wins will seek to burnish the Lib Dems' credentials not just as the leading party of Remain, but the best-placed party of the environment to win seats at Westminster. 

Both Swinson and Davey agreed that the government's net-zero carbon emissions target should be brought forward by at least a decade, and each had a list of domestic policy proposals as long as their arm on how to achieve it. 

That the environment and climate crisis has been so central to each of their leadership platforms guarantees that it will be as prominent a campaign theme going forward as Brexit, regardless of the victor Both Ed Davey and Jo Swinson say they could support a Labour prime minister – something their MPs believe is key to broadening their appeal. 


They won't really rule out putting Jeremy Corbyn into office

Asked whether they would countenance a coalition or confidence and supply arrangement with a Corbyn-led Labour Party, the contenders answered in unison with a categorical no. 

Their granite face of unconditional opposition, however, crumbled under interrogation: Davey and Swinson in turn refused to rule out supporting a Labour government on a vote-by-vote basis. Significantly, Davey went as far as saying he would whip Lib Dem MPs to support a Labour Queen's Speech as long as it included legislation for a second referendum. 

As understandably wary as both candidates are of another coalition – they did, after all, lose their seats in 2015 – the price for securing their backing on a more informal basis is clear, as much as neither really want to admit it. 


On electoral pacts, both are keeping their powder dry

Swinson and Davey both did a good job of creating the impression that they would be happy to agree to electoral pacts with Remain parties whatever the circumstances. Their shared refrain? "I'm not taking anything off the table."

As with the Corbyn question, however, the devil was in the detail. Neither actually committed to anything. That, in part, is because the Lib Dem leader won't really have the power to: the party's hyper-democratic structure means that the decision ultimately lies with local branches. 

But there is another, altogether trickier issue at play too: the SNP and Plaid Cymru. Committing to stand down for the strongest Remain party in any given constituency risks conceding to both nationalist outfits in marginal seats formerly held by the Lib Dems (such as Ceredigion in Wales and North East Fife in Scotland), and would make Swinson's life as a Scottish MP very difficult indeed.

The politics of a progressive alliance are much easier in theory than they are in practice – particularly when, unlike in Brecon and Radnorshire, the Lib Dems could lose out.


This contest is about style, not substance

Beyond its format, this evening's debate did not really seem like a debate at all. Such was the consensus between Swinson and Davey that it felt much more like a joint interview. 

As both candidates tacitly acknowledged in their opening statements, the question members must answer is who they think can communicate the same message more effectively.

That there will be no real difference in what that message is was underlined by the fact that Swinson highlighted her media acumen above anything else. 

For now, at least, Cable or Huhne style internal dissent will be hard to come by.

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.